A look at Olive Cotton's life in photography

The Cowra Regional Art gallery played host to the official launch of the biography of pioneering Australian photographer Olive Cotton "Olive Cotton: A life in photography" by Helen Ennis on Saturday, November 16.

Olive Cotton was a ground-breaking modernist Australian photographer whose significant talent was recognised as equal to her first husband, Max Dupain, before she divorced Max in the mid-1940s, leaving Sydney to live with her second husband, Ross McInerney and raise their two children in a tent on a farm near Cowra.

Speaking at the launch, author Helen Ennis said Olive's time in Cowra were the "greatest years in her life".

"It's so appropriate that we are launching the book here in Olive's community," she said.

"Olive grew up in Sydney and those are crucial years in her life and photography, but she loved her time in Cowra.

"During that time obviously she had many roles, wife, mother, grandmother, aunty, a neighbour, high school teacher and photographer.

"There's insight to that she gives in the book and this is a direct quote 'What I loved here more than anything was the space and freedom that this area gave me'," she said.

Ms Ennis said Olive's photography had inspired her to write the book, which had taken her about eight years to complete.

"Every Christmas would go by and I'd think 'if I found out in the new year someone was writing a biography on Olive Cotton I would be devastated' and that went on for quite a few years," she said.

"A lot had to happen slowly for me to write the book. People had to tell me things over long periods of time, I thought it was important Olive was no longer in the world, I would never have been intrusive to be writing about someone while they were living.

"It was important to me that Ross was no longer in the world, which happened around 2010 or 2011."

Ms Ennis said throughout the writing process, the biography had blown out into a bigger book than she intended.

"We are so used to biographies that are extended with all the subject's great deeds, so I tried not to write a conventional biography in that sense," she said.

"It's the ordinary and extraordinary that I've tried to weave together, because her achievements, when confined to the professional realm are amazing, but I think that what we know from biography is the interest and also in how people choose to live their lives, not just these big achievements.

"So it is a long book and that's important, to make a woman's life the subject of such extended research and such focused attention, but also to be able to have ordinariness in there, anecdote and recollection," she said.

Ms Ennis said she hoped readers of the biography would find a point of understanding and education that resonated with them from Olive's life.

"I feel really strongly that the biography is to succeed it has to make some connection to the past," she said.

"Somehow things from a person's life who might have been historised have to talk to you in the present.

"It will be up to you as readers to think 'What do I take from Olive's story that's relevant to me now?' because otherwise a biography will only be a historical document," she said.